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CONSTITUTIONAL COURT JUDGEMENT ON CONTROVERSIAL PUBLIC ORDER MANAGEMENT ACT KNOCKS OFF POLICE ‘POWERS’ TO BLOCK POLITICAL GATHERINGS

By Otim Nape

After seven years of gathering dust on the shelves of the Constitutional Court, a petition on the controversial Public Order Management Act (Poma) 2013 has been disposed of.

At the close of 2013, Human Rights Network Uganda, Development Network of Indigenous Voluntary Associations (Deniva), the Uganda Association of Women Lawyers (Fida-Uganda), Butambala MP Muhammad Muwanga Kivumbi and retired assistant Bishop of Kampala Dr Zac Niringiye challenged the law on grounds that it duplicated provisions in the ‘unconstitutional’ Penal Code, and limited enjoyment of human rights.

“The action of the respondent in enacting and assenting to Section 5 and 6 of the Public Order Management Act, which sections are substantially and materially similar to Section 32(2) of the Police Act that was declared unconstitutional by the Constitutional court in the constitutional petition number 9 of 2005 – Muwanga Kivumbi Vs Attorney General – is inconsistent with and in contravention of Article 92 of the Constitution,” read part of the petition.

The petitioners also argued that section four through 13 of the Poma – passed in August 2013 and assented to two months later – gave the Uganda Police Force (UPF) a lot of power to forcefully disrupt and disperse assemblies and slap criminal charges on organizers and participants.

On Thursday, a ruling by the Constitutional Court clipped police powers contained in Section eight of the Act in a majority decision of 4:1. The bench comprised Justices Kenneth Kakuru, Elizabeth Musoke, Cheboroin Barishaki, Geoffrey Kiryabwire and Stephen Musota. Only the latter dissented.

The first two subsections of the contentious section read: “Subject to the directions of the IGP, an authorised officer or any other police officer of or above the rank of inspector, may stop or prevent the holding of a public meeting where the public meeting is held contrary to this Act. An authorised officer may, for the purposes of subsection (1), issue orders, including an order for the dispersal of the public meeting, as are reasonable in the circumstances.”

But four justices ruled that the entire “Section 8 of the Public Order Management Act is unconstitutional and hereby declared null and void.” All acts done under that law are hereby declared null and void, added the judges.

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